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Benghazi government accuses Italian warships of violating Libyan territorial waters

Three Italian warships have entered Libyan waters east of Benghazi without permission, the internationally recognized Libyan government claims. The EU is running an anti-trafficking mission on the high seas near Libya.

The Benghazi-based officials vowed to use "all means" to protect the country's sovereignty, in a statement issued on Sunday.

Libyan naval forces say they spotted the three Italian vessels near the east coast of the North African country.

"The warships kept on until they approached the shores of Deryana town in east of Benghazi," the authorities said. "The government strongly condemns this violation."

Italy, the former colonial power in Libya, denied the accusation.

"All of Italy's military ships present in the Mediterranean operate in international waters and respect the limits established by treaty," the country's defense ministry stated on Sunday.

UN pushing for unity

Last month, several

EU members sent their warships to international water off the Libyan coast to combat the flow of migrants

to the EU. The crews are authorized to board and search smuggler's boats, arrest human trafficking suspects and transport any migrants to Europe.

Initially, the EU also wanted to operate along Libya's coast, but Libya objected.

People smugglers have profited from the power vacuum in Libya, caused by the rivalry between the internationally recognized government in Benghazi and the authorities set up by rebel factions in Tripoli.

The UN is attempting to

broker a peace agreement and a national unity government,

setting the stage for more international aid, with some observers also suggesting that EU ships will patrol Libyan waters.

dj/jm (AP, Reuters)

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